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Thai farming community adapts to climate change as world leaders shun solutions

While developed nations struggle to compromise a greenhouse gases cut, a farming community in Thailand are finding ways to adapt to climate change in a bid to save their livelihood.

windmill
Photo: Mongkonsawat Luengvorapant

For these 57 families in Yasothorn province, 531 kilometres northeast of Thailand, immediate action was needed as they were watching their rice crops wither away from prolonged drought and unpredictable flooding. So when they learned about an adaptation programme, initiated by Earth Net Foundation, a local non-profit organization, and Oxfam, they were enthusiastic.

water-02sYasothorn is part of a legendary plain called “Thung Kula Ronghai” or “Weeping Plain”, named after its barren landscape. It spans over parts of five provinces covering more than 2.1 million rai (829,500 acres).

The Plain’s saline soil and dry conditions have made it suitable for growing the world’s famous fragrant jasmine rice. Most of the rice, particularly of high-quality, comes from this area. Currently, Thailand is the world’s leading rice exporter, according to Food and Agriculture Organization.

Ranking as one of Thailand’s ten poorest provinces, Yasothorn has been hit hard by the worst drought in “57 years”, according to village elder, 65-year-old, Moon Polchai of Goot Choom district, one of eight districts under the programme. The other seven are Sai Mool, Muang, Patiew, Lerng Nok Ta, Thai Charoen, Maha Chanachai, and Kham Kuan Gaew.

Oxfam began working with ENF since 2004 to promote organic jasmine rice farming. Organic farming depends less on off-farm inputs, requires less energy and more environmentally sound, compared to conventional chemical-based farming.

The practice was successful. As soil fertility increased, yields per acre followed together with better health conditions of farmers. One family’s output has even doubled at 873 kg/rai (0.3953 acre). The highest yield ever recorded in Thailand was a mere 450 kg/rai in chemically-grown rice.

A study by ENF showed that an average rice harvest for organic farming in the project area is around 350 kg/rai, slightly bigger than those obtained from the chemical practice.  Still, organic farmers make much higher profits because they do not use chemicals.

But as global warming has slowly taken its toll on the country’s most arid region, water has become scarcer especially since there was no irrigation support. Chemically-grown rice crops were easily damaged while organic ones can withstand drought better

enf-pannee-2A village record on annual rainfall in the last decade showed the rain arrived later and later every year “from being late a few days to a week to a few weeks. The problem is the rain comes later and later,” said Pannee Samerpak, director of ENF’s Organic Agriculture Centre in the province. (photo: Jatupol Rittikerd)

In 2007, the province recorded a maximum temperature of 42 C and a minimum temperature of 8.5 C.A study showed an upward trend in temperature rise with wider gap between the maximum and minimum temperature.

A recent study by Global Change System for Analysis, Research and Training (START) Southeast Asia Regional Research Centre, confirmed the phenomenon was real. It showed the annual number of tropical depressions in Thailand in the last 30 years fell from 30 to 10, tropical storms from 55 to 35, and typhoons from 70-80 to 45-50.

“In the Northeast, it’s also very important to have a few depressions every year. Tropical storms or typhoons aren’t enough to last through the dry season,” said START director Anond Sanitwong na Ayudhya.

thongsaAccording to community member Thongsa Juansang, 49, the drought was so bad her family had to give up jasmine rice to save water for sticky rice for their own consumption. (photo: Jatupol Rittikerd)

“Yields aren’t enough for sale next year but we still have vegetables and fruits to eat and sell,” she said.

In the beginning of the programme, none had expected it would make a big difference. To the villagers’ surprise, the adaptation, though nothing major, gave an outcome that was “very, very good,” said Thongsa.

Through hours of discussion and consultation which included providing knowledge on climate change impacts and alternatives to minimize them, the villagers designed and created their own water supply system unique to each farm.

“We used the money from the project to expand the pond and dig a well which gets water from windmill. Thanks to this, we could retain half of our produces even though it’s the worst drought this year,” Thongsa said.

Months have passed since the project began in May; the families said their livelihood has significantly improved after having applied the system on their farmlands. Those who acted quickly like Manoon Pupa, 57, the outcome even exceeded the expectation.

The first thing everyone notices when stepping into his gate is a medium-sized windmill. Its propellers, made from an old election campaign billboard, whirling 24/7. The instrument is powered by natural wind, pumping water into Manoon’s new well and the nearby pond made bigger by the funding. Dikes were also spotted in the paddy fields.

The result? Higher yields of organic rice both of jasmine and sticky varieties compared to last year.

Despite this year’s harsh conditions, most programme participants were able to maintain an output level at least for consumption and some even more. Only a few households suffered a major loss to the rice yield because the water systems were not established in time.

watertank

The villagers know their fight for survival is still at the beginning as unpredictable weather is more likely to become the norm.

“Climate adaptation, in my opinion, is the ability to be flexible in handling climate shocks,” said Dr Anond. “Just because this adaptation method works this time doesn’t mean it will in the future.”“Putting your eggs in one basket or in agriculture terms monoculture farming would be too risky but integrated farming, for example, is a wise thing to do because your livelihood is not based on one crop,” he added.  

Echoing the voice of others across the region, Pannee expressed concerns over the lack of commitment from the government and businesses, saying the problem was too large for poor people to handle alone and in need of state support.

Oxfam’s programme coordinator, Supaporn Anuchiracheeva agreed, saying that all parties concerned need to get involved in order to see a nationwide impact. “The truth is what Oxfam and ENF are doing together is only a model in one small area,” she noted.

“It’s obvious the change doesn’t require a lot of resources, just cooperation from every sector and an action based on each area’s real situation,” said Supaporn.

  1. 3 Responses to “Thai farming community adapts to climate change as world leaders shun solutions”

  2. By kristine on Apr 4, 2011

    “Climate adaptation, in my opinion, is the ability to be flexible in handling climate shocks,” said Dr Anond. “Just because this adaptation method works this time doesn’t mean it will in the future.”“Putting your eggs in one basket or in agriculture terms monoculture farming would be too risky but integrated farming, for example, is a wise thing to do because your livelihood is not based on one crop,” he added.

    –I agree with this! Climate adaption could help easily more adjust. The success of farming depends on the climate itself. Their production should be compatible to any kind of climate.

  3. By kristine on Apr 7, 2011

    Thailand should really do something about the drought that is occurring in their land. One way to resolve is, like what they have planned to do, is adapting to climate change. Because, nowadays, the sun is extremely on its heat! Global warming occurs. People suffers, and this might affect their farming and their production of grains. It could be hard to harvest due to the drought.

    The soil must be fertile in order to produce grains, plants, etc.

    Many kind of climate changes might occur, so therefore, they need to adjust. They must work on it to avoid the decreasing number of necessities, and avoid scarcity of farm products.

  4. By Brett M on May 16, 2011

    Farming in other country’s compared to the United States, is almost the same. The weather conditions to climate. Hopefully as the future grows, so will our climate and natural resources.

    Great Article.

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